Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) led a June 18 letter signed by 18 senators to the administration opposing law enforcement tactics used during demonstrations calling for an end to racial injustice and police misconduct that may exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 and worsen public health disparities.
The letter was supported by the AAMC and the American Public Health Association, and several legal justice groups. In a press release accompanying the letter, Malika Fair, MD, MPH, AAMC senior director of health equity partnerships and programs, said, “We are fighting two intertwined pandemics—one with COVID-19 and one of systemic racism—both of which are causing harm to communities of color. We must take steps to ensure that we dismantle structural racism while also protecting ourselves from COVID-19. We also must keep in mind the devastating impact of structural racism on health while we continue the fight against COVID-19.”
The letter highlights that “Black people, particularly Black men and boys, are far more likely to experience violence and discrimination at the hands of law enforcement than their non-Black peers,” and that “Black people and other people of color are also far more likely to die of COVID-19.”
Citing public health guidelines, the letter opposes the use of tear gas or respiratory irritants; kettling or corralling protesters; and the use of public health contact tracing data for law enforcement activities. The letter notes, “As people exercise their constitutional right to protest, it is of paramount importance that you ensure that law enforcement authorities do not contribute to the COVID-19 pandemic by engaging in practices that increase the risk of coronavirus spread, and by taking additional steps to protect public health data.”
The AAMC launched a resource center on racism and public health on June 18, which will curate a collection of articles and resources to “explore the complex issues and strategies to combat racism and make health care more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.” On June 1, AAMC President and CEO David Skorton, MD, released a Statement on Police Brutality and Racism in America and Their Impact on Health.